Join us on a mission to seek the finest and best value artistic talent and app development… From SOMA San Francisco, to the far oceanic reaches of “Jawa,” the island of Java - to the basement building development depths of Northern India, hours away from Pakistan and only a right turn away from Nepal. One part travel diary, two parts business, one part blood sucking animals - humans included, and many parts, the Accounting Play family team, that I am deeply and at times literally, indebted to. I could never have gotten this far without your help.
Checkout the new Tax Fight! App, developed during the Ashram and finally… if you really want to help us out, tell a friend, and review one of the Kindle books if ya’ can.
Strange Demotivating Words of Graffiti Wisdom, Rishikesh, India
An ashram is generally a spiritual journey or place one goes to seek enlightenment, such as temple in Rishikesh, India, along the banks of the sacred Ganga (Ganges) river. Generally associated with the likes of Gandhi, Siddhārtha Gautama (aka the Buddha), or even Steve Jobs (aka the Apple guy) – I claim no association with such figures. The journey does, however conclude in Rishikesh, along the banks… of the sacred Ganga river – where offers to meet with my potential guru were politely declined. I already knew why I was here or there and it involved enlightenment of the more tangible, intangible kind: An app and the Accounting Play membership website. But out of these worldly pursuits, came much more. Written on location, recorded on an island studio for the podcast… Produced in conjunction with French, Indian, Indonesian, Philippine, American and really just world citizens. Enter… the Accounting App Ashram.
Welcome to Bandung
Where am I and why is Accounting Play here, in Bandung, Indonesia? I should be in an accelerator-ombinator program (shot out to Y Combinator) or pitching investors on Sand Hill Road or something
. But instead, I am sweating rather profusely in my outfit designed to match this surprisingly “cool” spot. Tight jeans on, leather boots, and Persol sun glasses, my look is pretty genuine. Only the occasionally fogged lenses from humidity could potentially blow my cover and expose the CPA within. I am killing time in a rare moment before I meet the “Cilok”… My mysterious graphic designer who had recently fallen ill and had been incommunicado for months - after
I had booked tickets all the way to Indonesia. Life at home on hold, years and thousands of hard earned dollars invested… Everything was on the line.
This Indonesian man of mystery along with an even more mysterious team in the background had built my entire e-commerce website, branding, and Kindle book layouts for less than a months rent in The SF Mission. All of this work and I had not heard from the man until I was in Jakarta. It was there I noticed a strange cart serving soup emblazoned with the words “Cilok!” “Cilok!” “Cilok!” written all over it. While the nearly 110 year-old operating the cart was not actually the Cilok, it was a fortuitous sign. Days later I was back in touch with the real lok’ himself and a couple weeks after, I made the trip to his home and office in Central Indo.
After a grueling ten hour drive from the remote surf break located by the Batu Besar Turtle Reserve, my body and excess luggage arrived in what was first a seemingly random city. Bandung, known colloquially as the Paris of Indonesia, appeared on the surface like the rest of Java: a mess of scooter traffic, plastic discards, and plumes of clove cigarette smoke. Known traditionally as an arts and crafts center according to omniscient Trip Advisor, I was looking to score some kinda bone carving or hand woven T-shirt or… something… But not even a hand woven bracelet
was to be found, in Paris of Indo.
Pinch Me – I Think I Just Had a Blue Bottle Espresso, Double Ristretto (cough)
Scoping out my neighborhood on arrival, I see tight jeans, skateboards, coffee shops, by the dozen… Instagram names chalked up on daily special boards… A peculiar scene grabs my attention. A guy (in super tight jeans) is taking a picture of sneakers while his friend sprinkles fallen leaves and cigarette ashes (an accidental affect) around the scene… There is an antique Land Cruiser turned into a sushi and sashimi food truck in the background. The neighboring restaurant has micro-greens growing out of a faux-distressed concrete wall. San Francisco? no. Brooklyn? nope. BANDUNG INDONESIA on the first day of RAMADON.
I photograph the HIPSTER photographer checking his photograph, as someone snaps the scene from their smart phone. I felt like I was in a parallel universe that seemed more like an extension of Valencia Street, SF, than it did Java. My Facebook Messenger pings and it is the lok’. The youth here rarely use a telephone number, instead preferring WiFi and rather cheap data. I stare at my phone and my Persols reflect back the mirror image message “ydaer” – “ready” – the message inverted from my shades. I seriously think this other Indonesian dude with a man-bun and Canon Mark V camera tried to capture it all at the same time, but I will never know. After a chat I found that these little rag-tag photographer looking skaters had a cumulative Instagram following of almost a quarter million people – getting paid from major brands… to post Valencia filtered images. “What has the Bay Area done to the world?” I wonder out loud.
Ready, I get a cab and give them the lucky or ominous address of the company, depending on your culture - Tikukur 13… Meaning “dove
of peace” in Bahasa Indonesia – the local language, followed by the number associated with Judas Iscariot… Betrayal. “Peace Betrayal Street,” Tikukur 13 which also is the name of the design firm, turned out to be fairly innocuous upon arrival, save for a yogurt cart parked out front. Why was there a yogurt cart? I start freaking out, look towards my departing cab, and the rain starts – call to prayer sounds in the background. On my back is enough Apple gear to create an international incident and I second guess the whole thing. Eyes transfixed on the yogurt cart design, stylistically familiar, the door swings wide open. It was CILOK! Pretty much the most genuinely nice and harmless looking dude on the planet. Far from his hardened rock and roll Facebook image that my mind latched onto. Deep in central Indo, I am welcomed into the business and home which is the birthplace of the next Accounting Play app: Tax Fight!
So “Cilok” – the online name of what I thought was one dude, turned out to actually be one of THREE people working together… And who I thought was Cilok, was actually Gian, and I come to learn that Cilok actually means “Indonesian Meatball” of all things, explaining the food cart. And there was a third, Braja, kinda a cool surfer Cali sounding name.
And so our meeting started, interrupted only at the beginning when team members took turns visiting the home Mushola aka, prayer room. It was the start of Ramadan after all and these gentlemen had gone without food or water since four in the morning and it was now four in the afternoon. I sheepishly sipped my water and Cilok gets me kopi… Indonesian coffee.
Pinch me. I had arrived at both my destination and starting place for Accounting Play’s next app. Thousands of miles away from home, I am sitting across from the team that built my website and designed most of my branding… On a side street, left of the yogurt cart – which turns out to be Cilok’s mother’s business, designed of course by Tikukur 13. What were these dudes all about? Ages 20-25, they looked like a cross between a heavy metal group and the math club.
Knowing now, I know nothing… I prod the team. Indonesia surprised me as a cross between avant-garde design and third-world pollution – contradictions of party and piousness, wealth and poverty – so I knew, I knew, nothing. We start to speak the international language: Money. I learned that through outsourcing websites, the team earns five times as much as the average Indonesian worker while charging about one fifth the cost of an American. Now pinched, the conversations shifts and I receive an unexpected pitch of the elevator sort. Turns out the team is seeking funding for an unrelated endeavor. Seems like my physical escape from San Francisco could not save me from another startup conversation. I crack up and listen up.
The three men were not just designer consultants, but product entrepreneurs. They often turn away client work to focus on their own startup pursuits, using web-apps centered on petroleum engineering… The brainchild of the group is the Lok’. Gian designs and Braja cracks the whip – making sure that the creative minds produce deliverables and bring in cash flow while, wait for it, working on their STARTUP. Startups, consultancy, hipsters, coffee, tech. I guess that is where life has taken me.
Now it is my turn for, my pitch. I breakout my Apple arsenal of embarrassingly expensive gear. MacBook Pro, iPhone 5 for my local phone, iPhone 6, iPad…
I must appear like a cross between a techno-junkie or someone who sells to junkies. Team Tikukur is unfazed by the display of my Bay Area techno-bravado and sticks to their PCs, likely running virtual Macs on them – a technical feat and headache you would not wish on anyone. To explain my concept, I ditch the tech for a minute, going instead to my favorite large scale format paper, of which I brought only 20 sheets. A fresh one comes out along with my pencil tin.
I start to explain how I want the UX and UI (how the app looks and functions)… Shoes off, guest in home, I begin to get into the new project. I start to sweat from lack of sleep, smog / smoke inhalation, and general tummy travel issues. I think I quietly let some gas out, but no one seems to notice (close call). I clear my smog affected voice, “Well, what I am trying to accomplish is a gamified tax quiz in which Uncle Sam fights the taxpayer in a David versus Goliath type of battle that looks like a cross between South Park and Sin City with the characters flushed out around the concepts of, patriotism, white trash, and a fun look.” Blank stares pierce me from the 270 degree living room seating arrangement. And then the nod. “Ok” responded Cilok.
We dove into the specs, google searches, and cultural references – some of which they seemed to know better than I did. They got it and over a handshake and the project was underway.
I was starting to get hungry, having eaten only an emergency Dominos personal pan pizza - conveniently located next to my hotel, but how did they feel. I suggested we walk to a restaurant and my team, fatigued from fasting and my voice, readily agreed. Asking for suggestions, they had none, instead generally preferring to eat with family. But this was a celebration! I decided on the restaurant I visited the night before, something like a cross between an up-scale Indonesian Olive Garden and Benihana’s. Unlimited breadsticks were replaced with rice,
but the happy birthday songs were still sung in English, accompanied this time with a Gambung, an ancient Indonesian instrument. The dinner was delightfully spicy, consumed with right hands – although my left one was there for a less than traditionally clean assist. What a trip. Project underway and relationships strengthened, we took photos of this special moment. Satisfied and finally eating together, we discussed our company visions for both Accounting Play and Tikukur 13 – as well as celebrated the website and Kindle book sales that have already helped thousands of accounting students and professionals.
Next Episode APP: 050 Accounting App Ashram II & III: Shocking New Delhi App Development - 12 hrs in India
Taxpayer Battles Uncle Sam in the app, Tax Fight!
John Gillingham, CPA is the founder of Accounting Play and the author of the ten part blog series “Accounting App Ashram” where he details his entrepreneurial journeys in India and the islands of Java in search of entrepreneurial enlightenment. The series chronicles the surprises and struggles of meeting the remote teams and conducting business abroad.
Accounting Play Offices, Java, Indonesia
Tax Fight Sketch-ups
Bangdung, Indonesia, Creative VW Store
Indonesian Terrarium Classes, Who Knew?
Quarter Million Followers, And Counting
San Francisco Airport Toy Story Exhibit, Tax Fight Inspiration